From smear to Eter­nity

Pre­sum­ably Arthur sought per­mis­sion only from his Maker to go about his street art

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - Su­san Kuro­sawa is on as­sign­ment. GRAHAM ERBACHER

Here’s a sub­ject on which it’s dif­fi­cult to steer a mid­dle course — street art. I’m not one to in­sist that all art must fit in a frame, but I don’t hold that ev­ery squig­gle, smear or “tag” on a wall or train seat con­sti­tutes must-be-nur­tured creative en­deav­our. There’s a fine line be­tween plea­sure and pain, but ever heard of the word van­dal­ism?

I should de­clare my in­ter­est as a one-time res­i­dent of in­ner Syd­ney’s Dar­linghurst, with a wall bor­der­ing a laneway; ev­ery night a new “work of art”. I’m for any­thing done by con­sent, but I guess the con­cept of per­mis­sion is scorned by the rev­o­lu­tion­ary. And, yes, I’d have a dif­fer­ent view had Banksy ever chanced on my wall.

Thoughts on this have been stirred by a new Lonely Planet pub­li­ca­tion, Street Art: Dis­cover street art in 140 hot spots in 42 ci­ties world­wide. It dis­plays some won­der­ful works in dizzy­ing lo­ca­tions (not al­ways ex­e­cuted ac­cord­ing to health and safety best prac­tice), but they are mostly con­tem­po­rary and not his­toric. Men­tioned but not pic­tured in Ber­lin, for ex­am­ple, are the rem­nants of the Wall, fes­tooned on the west­ern side by free­dom graf­fiti.

The guide se­lects Ade­laide (“Rade­laide”), Mel­bourne and Perth as Aussie “hot spots” and I won’t quib­ble with that, but I have a few of my own. Off the City Mall in Ip­swich, Queens­land, search out the Bot­tle Al­ley Mu­ral, con­ceived by artist Julie Mad­dock and painted with help from the com­mu­nity; it tells the his­tory of the city through old bot­tles. And in Wool­loomooloo, Syd­ney, I love the mu­rals on the py­lons of the Eastern Sub­urbs rail­way viaduct, which cap­ture the de­fi­ant spirit of the 1970s green bans that saved the his­toric area from rede­vel­op­ment. In Woy Woy, on the NSW cen­tral coast, a wall bor­der­ing a laneway be­tween a com­muter car park and the rail­way sta­tion car­ries a gritty mu­ral of faces. The work of the Gos­ford Graf­fiti Art Project, it ref­er­ences John Brack’s pic­ture of work­ers trudg­ing home, Collins St, 5pm.

The wall is that of a (sadly now-closed) butcher shop, which has a sign in el­e­gant win­dow-dis­play writ­ing declar­ing, “We stock pick­led ox tongue”. For some ta­bles per­haps, just not mine. I was al­ways sur­prised a butcher’s hand that could hack to the bone could also pro­duce flow­ery sign-writ­ing and re­mem­ber from youth the ex­quis­ite char­ac­ters of one shop’s warn­ing, “No loi­ter­ing or ex­pec­to­rat­ing”. I didn’t know what that last word meant and con­jured up a lurid act be­fore I could get to a dic­tionary. But why would you do that in a shop?

The path of ex­quis­ite cal­lig­ra­phy leads to Arthur Stace, the al­co­holic who found God at the Bur­ton Street Taber­na­cle in Dar­linghurst and whose in­spired mis­sion was to write “Eter­nity” in chalk on pave­ments across Syd­ney for 30 years from the 1930s. Pre­sum­ably Arthur sought per­mis­sion only from his Maker to go about his street art, com­mem­o­rated in fire­works on the Har­bour Bridge in the first sec­onds of the 21st cen­tury. No mat­ter what your be­liefs it’d be a brave per­son to con­front him, but the city coun­cil cus­to­di­ans of clean foot­paths did. I shud­der to think where they’re now spend­ing Eter­nity.

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